- Hi –
- You asked in the last newsletter about “murder viruses”, and it made me think…
- First, what you describe isn’t too far from gene therapy, in which a virus can be used to insert a piece of DNA into a person’s genome; this new DNA will – the theory goes – code for a protein that would not otherwise be produced, and thereby stands a chance of curing a number of genetic illnesses. The technology is in its infancy, but it’s at least conceptually possible to imagine such a virus being released into the “wild” for the sake of some public health benefit (though, of course, there’d be all kinds of ethical problems about unconsented treatment, novel technologies, germ-line vs somatic-line genetic modification, and so on).
- I think there’s also research on using gene therapy for certain cancers, in which the gene inserted would disrupt the tumour’s growth while leaving the surrounding tissue unaffected. Presumably, this has something to do with kick-starting cell-death.
- SOOOO – getting back to your question: I’ve asked around a bit (including here) it probably would be possible in principle to adopt this theory so that the virus would insert a strand of disruptive DNA. And, I suppose, it would be possible in principle to make it select for a specific genetic signature; you wouldn’t have to worry about the virus moving on, as it would simply never activate the gene unless the circumstances were right. The technique would be very difficult, though, given that many illnesses are multifactorial, and many proteins are coded by several genes which means that there’s lots of reserves – so you’d have to knock them all out, while still keeping your virus specific to the target. It would probably be easier to target one or the other sex by setting your sights on destroying a chromosome; but if that’s what you’re up to, it’s easier still to walk down the street with a gun.
- I had a feeling, though, that the South African security services did try to come up with an ethnically specific biological agent during the 1980s; however, they never succeeded, and, from what I can tell, this might be an urban myth anyway. If it’s not, it goes to illustrate the principle that the most morally repugnant people often have cool technology.
- I’m wittering a bit, so will stop now. Hmph.
- Iain/ Enzyme